As a preface to this article, please note that I will only be covering KDE and GNOME. I know a lot of you out there have your preferred desktop other than those two, but for the sake of simplicity that is all I will cover today. Also keep in mind that this article is solely for the purpose of creating helpful and insightful discussion. Not as flame-bait. Keep it civil.
We all know that the so called "war" between KDE and GNOME has been raging now for a long time. Unfortunately, this competition seems to have fractured the Linux community into two (and more) warring camps, neither able to give an inch between them. People seem to either LOVE GNOME, or LOVE KDE. I have very rarely seen a middle ground. The question I pose today is the following: Is the competition between KDE and GNOME helping or hurting Linux in the long run; and if the latter; would the community be bettered if the two behemoth projects were to come together and merge into one giant linux-standard desktop?
I'm sure a lot of the real Linux hardcores who read that sentence just passed out from screaming too loud. Keep your flames to yourself until I'm done, and it'll all be okay.
I'm going to start off by admitting my preference. I'm a GNOME guy. I started off using KDE originally, but I have come to truly like and respect GNOME. I'm sure it has to do with my love of simplicity and ease of use. But let me get it out of the way by saying that the fact that I prefer GNOME, does NOT in any way mean that I think KDE is terrible, or that GNOME is the end-all be-all of desktops. I honestly believe that the real correct answer is somewhere in the middle ground, where as of late, no one seems to want to tread.
As Linux is growing in popularity with small governments, schools, and the general public, we have to ask ourselves if offering TWO major desktops with every release is really the sane thing to do. Realize for a moment that the average to below average computer user is barely even aware of what WINDOWS is. Giving out tech support to people over the years and asking them what version of Windows is on their machine, only to get back the answer "Dell", has told me that. If those users, or even a fairly advanced Windows user, who is unfamiliar with Linux, are asked to choose between two fairly esoteric, non-descriptive names for thier desktop, they are certainly not going to know what to choose, without doing some internet research first. ( Which we know many people are too lazy to do. ) I mean could you imagine a Linux-based computer world in Linux's current state? Imagine tech support for a moment.
Caller - "Hi, my computer isn't working"
Tech Support - "Ok what distribution, desktop, and kernel version are you running?"
Caller - "Dell?"
The major problem with public adoption of Linux in general, is the feeling among most people who have even heard of Linux is that it is "too complicated" or "for those computer geeks" which, for a very long time was absolutely true. The recent push from distros like Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Linspire, Xandros and others to provide a comprehensive Linux desktop that "just works" is incredibly heartening to me. It proves to me that Linux has matured to a point where we are very quickly nearing our "coming out" party. The use of software like Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice are also starting to whet people's appetites for quality open source software. These programs are acting like a gateway into the larger open source community for a lot of people (including myself). If Linux is to succeed we have to take advantage of the fact that people are starting to pay attention to what the community is doing.
Unfortunately, someone looking in on the OS community from the outside, does NOT see a pretty picture. We look like a bunch of squabbling teenagers who can't decide on a single thing. We have tons of different desktop environments, tons of word processors, tons of web browsers, hell we can't even seem to decide on a standard way to program all this stuff! To most businesses, governments and average people, this is not the right way to develop a quality product. Now, being INSIDE the OS community, this all makes sense. It has worked all along! We are all building off of each others work to create the new and better. Why fix what isnt broken? However, it would be nice if we could at least decide on a single standard desktop environment for all of the major distributions to use. Many will say this is very un-open source of me to say, and I suppose it's true. Though imagine how much simpler software development would be if we only had to have one desktop / major software toolkit installed by default in all of the major distros for everything to "just work". Having a singular desktop standard does not in any way mean that people can't go off and create other desktops, as I'm sure people would. It would just mean that we would all have something to rally around, instead of bickering all of the time. It would also give all of the Linux flavors a similar look and feel. Linux would always at least LOOK like Linux. Nowadays, some distros look like Windows, some look totally different, and the average computer user wouldn't be able to identify Linux if they tripped over it. The ability for the average person to look at a laptop in Starbucks and say "Oh is that the new Linux, wow!" Would be HUGELY beneficial for public adoption.
This is not to say that it would be an easy transition. A lot of hard work would have to be scrapped, or re-written, and it would be a very hard time for a lot of Linux coders. But in the long run I think it would seriously help the public viability of Linux and open source. Of course you hardcores out there wouldn't be forced to use what you would consider to be this "monstrocity." I'm sure that both KDE and GNOME would continue off on thier own forks, and you would be able to switch back and forth at will.
My point is this. the competing development of KDE and GNOME has sparked some wildfire-like advancements in Linux over the past few years. This is a great thing for the community and for anyone who takes advantage of open source software. However the time is coming soon where Linux will have the chance to seriously gain some spotlight in the world, and I think it is our job as open source software users and developers to make sure that when that time comes, we put aside our petty squabbles and finally start to work together to make sure that the product everyone has been working so hard on for so long is as polished and professional as humanly possible. If that means giving up either KDE or GNOME , or both to make sure we put our best foot forward, I think that is not a terrible price to pay.
So let's just assume GNOME and KDE were merged into a single Linux-standard desktop that was installed by default on all of the large distros. Ignoring most of the technical details that would make this extremely difficult to pull off, let's just assume it was possible and completed:
I'd like you readers to comment and let me know what you think on the following questions:
What pieces of KDE and GNOME would you keep in this new standard desktop?
What would you be rid of?
Do you think having a standard is a good idea or a bad one? Why?
Do you think that Linux as a project has moved past the point of just being a hobbyist venture? If and when do you think we will finally reach "the year of the Linux desktop"
Discuss, argue, and discuss some more. Keep it polite though people, flaming is not welcome here.